If anyone would know what Edgewood Park was like in its early days, it would be Helen Barbarot Bernier, born 93 years ago in her grandmother’s house on Jonquil Street.
“I was the seventh of eight children, and I lived there until I was 20 and got married. Then, I moved back when my husband was drafted into the service during the Korean War,” she said. “It was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in.”
It still is.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, Edgewood Park will make its first appearance at today’s Great Neighborhood Sellabration, an old house fair sponsored by the Preservation Resource Center.
The Sellabration includes exhibits staffed by more than 20 neighborhoods, as well as talks about real estate and information on homebuying and financing. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lake Area High School, 6026 Paris Ave. Admission is free.
Marva Mitchell, vice president of the Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association, believes hers is one of the best organized, most active associations in town.
“We were founded in 2000, and one of our leaders helped start the annual Gentilly Fest that’s held in Pontchartrain Park,” Mitchell said. “Our neighborhood is very diverse, and plenty of new people have moved in since Hurricane Katrina.”
Undoubtedly, they have been attracted by Edgewood Park’s friendly personality, historic houses dating to the early 20th century, and its modest real estate prices.
“The neighbor to my right just moved here from Bywater because he was priced out of that market,” Mitchell said.
Edgewood Park was platted and its lots went on the market in 1909, not long after Gentilly Terrace — its neighbor to the north — was founded. The neighborhood is bordered on the north by Gentilly Boulevard, on the south by I-610, on the east by Peoples Avenue, and on the west by Fairmont Drive.
Edgewood Park originally extended farther to the south, all the way to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad tracks, but 70 homes were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the interstate.
According to the Register nomination, the neighborhood was planned as a working-class suburb connected to downtown by the mile-long extension of the Villere Street car line on Franklin Avenue.
Lots measured the standard 30 feet by 120 feet (many purchasers bought two) and sold originally for as little as $250 with $1 down. Ads touted those as “terms that place homes within everybody’s reach.”
Proximity to the Gentilly Ridge earned it additional merits as “high, dry.”
One of the earliest homes in the neighborhood was a raised house on a large tract of land at the corner of Clover and Lotus streets. The house remains, but the lots where greenhouses once stood for the Edgewood Park Nursery have long since been filled with residences.
In 1922 came Pierre A. Capdau Elementary School, designed by architect E. A. Christy. The building is slated to become senior housing soon.
The neighborhood is noted for its collection of bungalows, shotguns, camelbacks and especially raised basement houses in popular early 20th century styles, mainly Craftsman and revival styles including Tudor, Mediterranean and Colonial.
A family-friendly neighborhood
Bernier and Debbie Boudreaux Daspit both attended Capdau, though in different eras.
“Capdau started out as an elementary school, but it was a junior high later,” said Daspit, who has lived in Edgewood Park since her family moved there in 1950, when she was 5. “After I married, we bought a house next to my parents on Acacia. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood back then.”
Alisha Johnson, the neighborhood association president, said that although the number of children in the area is down from when Bernier and Daspit were youngsters, it’s only a matter of time before the young adults now buying houses in Edgewood Park start families.
“Because it is still a quiet neighborhood, it makes a great place to raise a family,” Johnson said.
Donna Schmitt, raised in Faubourg Marigny, has been a resident since 1983 and said that she prizes her neighborhood’s convenience.
“There are churches, banks, grocery stores and everything else nearby,” she said. “Getting downtown is easy because the route avoids the usual commuter traffic.”
The Verbena Bakery was gone by the time Schmitt moved to the area, but Daspit remembers it well.
“There was no sign outside, nothing. What I remember is going at night and walking down the dark driveway to a door that opened into the basement,” Daspit said. “There were just four kinds of doughnuts and they would melt in your mouth. There was so much sugar on the basement floor that your feet would stick to it.”
“There was always a line and it didn’t matter if you were black or white or rich or poor,” said Daspit’s husband, Buddy.
“You would stand in line with people wearing tuxedos and others wearing coveralls; there was no hierarchy. It’s where I would take dates in the 1960s when I started driving.”
Drinks by the pail
Bernier said she recalls the bakery as well as other small businesses in her block of Jonquil or nearby.
“We would go to the Peacock movie theater at Clematis and Gladiolus (streets) and to Balthazar’s, the dry goods shop. There was a barbershop and a grocery at the corner from our house,” Bernier said.
“There was a little barroom on Lotus and during the war, my mother would send me and my brother with money and a pail for the bartender to fill up with beer.”
Look for the Edgewood Park booth at the Sellabration today to discover why so many longtime residents wouldn’t live anywhere else.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at email@example.com.